The Facts About Tourette Syndrome
Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that falls on the spectrum of a group of conditions referred to as tic disorders. TS causes tics, which involve repetitive movements or unwanted sounds that can be hard to control, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Tourette Association of America reports as many as 1 in 5 school-age children in the U.S. have tics. While experts estimate more than half a million U.S. children have a tic disorder of some type, there are currently no reliable estimates of how prevalent TS is among adults due to a lack of adequate research.
Some experts believe the lack of reliable data on TS among adults is also due, in part, to the fact the syndrome is believed to often be misdiagnosed as other conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder or other behavioral conditions. It's important to note tic disorders decline with age, meaning TS likely occurs in adults at significantly lower rates than in children.
Symptoms and causes of Tourette syndrome
Tics are the defining symptom of TS. They can range from mild to severe and manifest in a variety of ways. In severe cases, tics may interfere with essential activities such as communication and other daily responsibilities.
There are simple tics, which involve the repetitive, sudden and brief movements of one or two groups of muscles. And then there are complex tics that involve movements of several muscle groups in coordinated patterns. Generally, tics fall into two main groups—motor and vocal.
According to the Mayo Clinic, common simple motor tics include such things as rapid eye-blinking, head-jerking, mouth movements and shoulder-shrugging. Meanwhile, complex motor tics can involve obscene gesturing, touching or smelling things, stepping in specific patterns and more. Simple vocal tics often manifest as grunting, coughing or throat-clearing, while complex vocal tics can range from repeating words to blurting out vulgar words and phrases.
TS can look vastly different from person to person. The tics people with TS have can vary greatly in frequency and severity, and may change over time and have different triggers. Tics can appear as early as age 2, often reaching their peak in teenage years and improving during early adulthood.
According to the Tourette Association of America, people with TS may experience an uncomfortable sensation or urge that can be relieved by expressing a tic. And while it can be very difficult to repress a tic, it is possible to do so for some people.
The medical community is unsure of what exactly causes TS, though experts believe it's likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, as well as brain chemistry. Individuals with a family history of TS are likely at an increased risk of developing the syndrome, and men are three to four times more likely than women to have TS, though why is yet to be understood.
Diagnosis and treatment
As there's no test capable of determining whether someone has TS, the syndrome is diagnosed based on the history and frequency of symptoms.
Many people with TS are able to manage their tics without treatment and maintain their quality of life. Those who do seek treatment for their symptoms will likely use either medication, therapy or a combination of both.
The medication used to treat TS depends largely on the nature and severity of an individual's tics. Some medications used to treat TS work by blocking or lowering dopamine levels, while others include ADHD medications, Botox injections, antidepressants and antiseizure drugs—just to name a few. Therapeutic treatments include behavioral therapy, psychotherapy and deep brain stimulation, which targets electrical stimulation to certain parts of the brain responsible for movement.
If you have TS, and tics are reducing your quality of life, interfering with daily activities, don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor for help. Making that doctor appointment may be the first step toward finding effective treatment.